35% of the European land area is covered by forests, which represent 25% of the world’s forest resources. Forests provide habitats and nutrients for organisms, modulate hydrologic flow, and help conserve soil resources. They constitute one of the most important aspects of the biosphere. They also deliver services such as carbon storage, helping to regulate the climate, purify water and mitigate natural hazards such as floods. Forests also contain roughly 90% of the world's terrestrial biodiversity. It is essential that information be shared to help protect European and tropical forests and ensure their sustainable management.
The JRC supports the implementation of the EU Forestry Strategy, the EU Forest Action Plan and the EU initiative on forest protection. The JRC also contributes to the Europe 2020 targets and in particular to the “Resource Efficient Europe” flagship initiative. It participates in the development of European climate change policies, and it supports multilateral environmental agreements such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan.
The JRC supports the development of a framework for the assessment of policy options that identifies ways to maintain and improve sustainable forest management practices, and enhance forest health and vitality. The JRC assesses the status of EU and global forest resources and investigates the roles that forests play in supporting economic and ecological services, particularly with respect to natural and anthropogenic threats.
The JRC delivers policy-relevant information on the status and trends of forests. It derives this information from advanced remote sensing, forest models and multi-sectorial sources through its information systems and spatial modelling tools. This modelling framework is shared with key partners from global networks and international bodies.
Forest information sharing
Data harmonisation and improvement of access to information are among the major challenges facing the European forestry sector. One of the main objectives of the JRC is to establish a European Forest Data Centre (EFDAC) as the focal point for forest information at a European level. EFDAC is being built in compliance with the guidelines of the Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe (INSPIRE), contributing to the development of the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS).
Sustainable use of European forests
The European population and its socioeconomic interests put great pressure on Europe's forest resources, which are subject to fragmentation, atmospheric pollution, degradation and climate effects such as forest fires. In Europe, 65 000 fires occur each year, burning around 500 000 ha of forest and vegetation. To encourage good governance of European forests, the JRC monitors the status and trends of European forests in relation to forest extent and fragmentation, forest species distribution and the influence of climate change.
Each year around 13 million hectares are deforested worldwide. 96% of this annual deforestation occurs in tropical regions. The JRC helps developing countries to improve the sustainable management of their forest resources by providing timely and up-to-date information on the location and condition of forest resources, land-use changes and deforestation trends. The JRC also addresses forest cover and cover change issues with respect to EU commitments to multilateral environmental agreements, especially to United Nations (UN) conventions.
Climate footprint of anthropogenic impacts on forests
To reach its 2020 targets regarding Climate Change mitigation, the EU needs to consider all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. An estimated 15% of global GHG emissions can be traced back to tropical deforestation, and forest and peat degradation. The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) initiative is a global incentive approach that aims to reduce GHG emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Forest Ecosystem Services
Forest ecosystems offer a range of services such as wood for timber, paper industries and energy, carbon sequestration, clean water, natural hazard protection, habitat provision, and recreation. The EU Biodiversity strategy to 2020 was adopted in May 2011 with the ambitious aim of halting the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU by 2020. To reach this goal, targets have been defined, including mapping and assessment of ecosystem services and condition, a better protection for ecosystems and more use of green infrastructure.
The EU Green Infrastructure (GI) strategy was adopted in 2013. GI is a strategically planned network of natural and semi-natural areas with other environmental features designed and managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services. GI can play an important role in protecting, conserving and enhancing the EU’s natural capital. It aims to enhance the connectivity between protected and unprotected areas, rendering ecosystems more resilient and addressing issues such as the impacts of forest change and fragmentation.
The JRC supports these policies by conducting research on mapping, modelling and valuation of forest ecosystem services, forest condition (including measuring and monitoring landscape fragmentation patterns and connectivity for the forest ecosystem and protected areas (Natura 2000)) and forest biodiversity.
The European Union uses biomass to meet its needs for food, energy, and materials. The demand for and supply of biomass have economic, environmental and social impacts. The policy framework for climate and energy in the period from 2020 to 2030 asks for an improved biomass policy to maximise the resource-efficient use of biomass and to allow for fair competition between the various uses of biomass resources. In line with the EU forest strategy, the use of forest biomass must encompass the sustainable management of forests. In order to provide a sound scientific basis for EC policy making in this domain, the JRC provides data, models and analysis on forest biomass supply, demand and its sustainability.